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Dear District 1 Residents and Friends,  
 
Well, I for one am still mourning the fate of our Nats (and the state of the Washington football team doesn't help any!).  Oh well, you probably are not reading this for my sportscasting skills.  
I am going to test you in this edition of the  Berliner Brief.  It is anything but brief.  However, it does accurately reflect just how much is going on right now -- fighting to preserve the vision of the new White Flint; working to give WSSC's ratepayers a fair shake; reforming our out-of-date taxi cab regulations and welcoming new services like Uber and Lyft; supporting public financing of county elections; working to bring about a utility system worthy of the 21st century; and using drones to save lives. And that isn't even half of what my team and I have been up to this past month.  
Life is busy...for me...and I know for you too.  I hope the freshness of fall is welcome and that all is good in your world.  

 

Sincerely,


Roger Berliner

District 1

 

Honoring White Flint's Future

 

As I wrote in the blog  Greater Greater Washington, our county is at a crossroads. There has been a long-running battle over how many lanes of traffic should be built on the portion of Old Georgetown Road that runs in front of the new Pike & Rose development just west of 355 and one block from the Metro station. For many of us, this fight over the number of lanes is about the future direction of our county.  

 

It is about honoring the hard work our Planning Board and County Council put into transforming a classic suburban strip mall into the new White Flint with multimodal transportation options -- walking, biking, transit, and driving -- and strong placemaking to support the experience of consumers enjoying the amenities of one of the hottest new developments in the region.

 

And here is what it isn't about. It isn't about the developer, Federal Realty, the first real mover in White Flint, investing hundreds of millions of dollars, and producing what everyone acknowledges to be a top-of-the-line mixed-use project, nor is it about the Friends of White Flint, who have been vigilant and valiant guardians of the vision our planners and Council have held for White Flint.

 

So why is the vision at risk?  The threat of worse traffic. Using old-school and debunked methodologies, assumptions at odds with reality, and not reflecting the use of the new street grid, traffic engineers maintain that intersections will fail. But if you use the new methodologies, more realistic assumptions, and disperse cars throughout the new grid that is to be created, the intersections don't fail. Our planners and council understood the traffic implications of this plan. And that is why our council insisted on advancing the construction of Hoya Street, the four lane street that will connect southbound 355 with Old Georgetown at Executive Blvd. It is a much better route for those traveling north or south via Old Georgetown. With that option available and the new grid of streets we are creating, we don't need to sacrifice bike lanes, pedestrian facilities or the new urbanism experience we are trying to create.

 

County officials say our hands are tied by the state who will insist on eight lanes on their state road. State officials have told me that they are following the county's lead.  And so our county must lead. Strongly.  And regrettably, none of the people who have been involved in this struggle from the beginning believe we have fulfilled that fundamental responsibility. The County Executive, in response to the hundreds of community members who have written expressing their alarm over the threat to our vision of White Flint, framed the issue as "not if, but when" we are able to realize our vision. The traffic engineers of course argue for eight lanes for now and reduce it later if conditions permit. The rest of us want that scenario reversed -- and get it right the first time.

 

We can always add more lanes at a later date, but if we don't build the bike lanes and shared use paths at the onset, we will undermine both our ability to meet our own non-auto mode-share goals in this area and our vision of White Flint.  Bottom line -- a lot is riding on whether we realize our collective vision of the future of White Flint and our county.

 

In the interest of full disclosure, several weeks ago, I put down a deposit on one of the apartments in the Pike & Rose development.

 
Giving WSSC Ratepayers a Fair Shake
 

As many of you know, last winter my office received a deluge of complaints about abnormally high bills from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC). While WSSC maintained that the increased costs were due to a longer billing cycle, residents were consistently finding their bills were hundreds of dollars larger than they had been in the past. Constituents continue to regularly contact my office about abnormal WSSC bills.

 

The problem, though, is not just with these abnormal bills. When constituents want to appeal their bill, WSSC stands as both judge and jury. There is no independent review of WSSC's billing practices. And WSSC's dispute processes often come to conclusions about what caused the increase that are in direct opposition to the conclusions drawn by residents and their plumbers.

 

For that reason, we need independent oversight from the state, as WSSC is a state agency. I am working with Senator Brian Feldman (District 15) to draft legislation that would create an Independent Review Board to examine abnormally high WSSC bills. This Board, located within the Office of the Attorney General, would feature three citizens appointed by the Attorney General, one representative from the Office of People's Counsel, and one representative from WSSC itself. It would be empowered to provide appropriate restitution to affected ratepayers.

 

As we move into the legislative session this coming winter, I hope to have your help in urging our county's Annapolis delegation to support this important reform. We must create accountability for WSSC, and this legislation would help to do so.

 

We Can Have Both Uber/Lyft & Good Taxi Services

 

Last Thursday, I led a Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee session to discuss how we can best embrace the innovation of the new and exciting entrants Uber and Lyft, and use their innovation as a spur to modernize how we regulate our existing taxicab companies.

 

At the meeting, the Committee heard from local taxi companies, the transportation networking company Lyft, and our Department of Transportation, which regulates taxis in our county. And from what I heard at that session from all parties, there is a clear path forward for us to preserve the important functions that taxicabs play (particularly through wheelchair-accessible and subsidized Call-n-Ride service), give consumers protections for when they use an Uber or Lyft vehicle, and create a more level playing field for our taxi cab companies and their drivers.  

 

In the coming days, I will be convening representatives from the taxi and transportation networking companies as well as the Department of Transportation to craft a bill that I believe will win support from all major stakeholders in this matter. And in the end, the biggest beneficiary will be the riding public. They will have access to more transportation options, helping to bring cars off the road, and they will be guaranteed that their transportation is safe and reliable.

 

Creating Maryland's First Local Public Campaign Finance System

 

On September 20, our Council unanimously voted to approve the creation of a public financing system for candidates seeking to serve on the County Council or as County Executive. With that vote, Montgomery County is the first jurisdiction in Maryland to provide this funding option for candidates running for office.

 

It is a privilege to serve a county that has so many civic minded residents who take the process of governing seriously and are not afraid to speak out on the critical issues facing us. That is why I was proud to join Councilmember Phil Andrews and every one of my council colleagues as early co-sponsors of this legislation.

 

Since 2001, Councilmember Andrews and our Council have urged the Maryland General Assembly to provide the County with the authority to adopt campaign finance reforms. In 2013, the General Assembly adopted a bill that enables counties to provide for the option of public financing for county elections beginning with the 2015-18 election cycle. Participation by candidates would be voluntary.

 

This bill represents a significant step forward in leveling the playing field for individuals who may not have access to traditional donors, but possess vital expertise and experience that would benefit the people of Montgomery County.  I think it is good for the health of our democracy.

 

 

Updates on Metro Repair Work

 

 

As you may have read in the news, there is a lot that will be happening at the Bethesda Metro station in the future, with both a significant escalator replacement and future repair work. 

 

Since work began on October 6, WMATA is replacing all three of the escalators, which are the second-longest in the system and the Western Hemisphere. And I don't need to tell you that they need to be replaced!  Escalators will be replaced one-at-a-time, with each escalator taking 42 weeks to replace. The project will take two-and-a-half years in total.  Not as quick as we would like of course, but it is progress. 

 

Metro has made significant preparations to accommodate public safety or access issues that might arise. Added escalator mechanics will be on-call at the station should one of the two operating escalators fail. Police will be stationed to prevent crowding.  In the case of an emergency at the station or an extended shutdown of the remaining escalators, the Bethesda station may be closed. Trains would then bypass the station. A shuttle will be provided between Medical Center and Bethesda (but not between Friendship Heights and Bethesda), and Ride On or Metrobus service may be helpful in such circumstances.

 

Over the length of this long project, you should expect that the Bethesda station may need to be closed at some point and therefore it would behove you to be be prepared to make an appropriate alternative commute. For up-to-date information from Metro, please visit:  www.wmata.com/MetroAlerts

 

The other big project coming along is a major repair to the Red Line to waterproof the system to stop electrical failures. As you may know, there have been significant water leaks near the Medical Center station in the past few years. An earlier proposal to make repairs had called for a full shutdown of Metro service for a significant length of time.  I pushed hard for them to explore any and all alternatives. 

 

Fortunately, they found one.  Still not ideal, but far better.  Beginning in summer 2016, Metro will close the Red Line between Friendship Heights and Grosvenor for 14 total weekends, including 7 consecutive weekends. A "bus bridge" of shuttles will help to fill the gaps during this weekend work.

 

Metro has resolved to take advantage of this shutdown to make significant additional improvements to the Red Line. Crews will rebuild the crumbling platform at Grosvenor and will build a new mezzanine at Bethesda station that will allow for easy transfers to the future Purple Line.

 

Update on Coalition for Utility Reform

 

The sale of Pepco to Exelon offers a very important opportunity to dramatically change how electric power is provided in our community. In my last  Berliner Brief , I explained that I was forming a Coalition for Utility Reform to advocate that should the merger be approved, the Public Service Commission should tie fifty percent of the new entity's regulated return to its ability to meet standards related to customer service, green energy, cost minimization, reliability, and innovation.

 

 

On September 17, this Coalition  filed its petition to intervene in the merger, and was granted status as a party. The Coalition includes leading advanced energy organizations, like the Energy Future Coalition; environmental groups, like Environment Maryland; local municipalities, including the Montgomery Chapter of the Maryland Municipal League, Rockville, Somerset, Garrett Park, Takoma Park, Greenbelt, and College Park; and four of my colleagues, Councilmembers Leventhal, Elrich, Riemer, and Branson.

 

Not unexpectedly, Exelon moved to limit the scope of our involvement, a motion, that if it had been granted, would have gutted our involvement. With Gaithersburg Councilmember Ryan Spiegel serving with me as our group's co-counsel, he was able to squash that move.  

 

Moving forward, we will be working with other intervening parties -- interests representing other local governments, advanced energy, and environmental groups -- to build an even broader coalition of advocates for a new energy future for Maryland.

 

Our goal is simple: we believe that electric power should be more reliable, that more of your power should come from clean sources, that solar power and microgrids should be more plentiful, and that our local utility should be held to high degrees of customer service. We will be working hard to make the Public Service Commission and Exelon agree with these important and necessary demands.

 

Community Leaders Town Hall

 

Last Wednesday morning, I hosted a town hall meeting with community leaders representing citizens and neighborhood organizations through out the district. Meetings like this are important as it allows me the opportunity to hear directly from the people I serve. District 1 is blessed to have some of the finest residential neighborhoods in the region. Whether it was talking about bus rapid transit, tree removal, WSSC, the future of White Flint, or economic development, I enjoyed this conversation and look forward to more in the future.

 

What Does the Future Hold for the Apex Building in Bethesda?

Last month, our Council heard about the proposed cost of tearing down the so-called Apex Building on Wisconsin Avenue in order to accommodate a larger Purple Line station with a full Capital Crescent Trail connection. Unfortunately, the dollar amount presented to the Council was too large for either the County Executive or my colleagues to accept, and the plan to tear down the building has been put on hold.

 

I will continue to strive for the best Bethesda station possible. There still is an opportunity for the redevelopment of the Apex Building to go forward if a more reasonable number can be agreed to.  But it is a long shot at this point in time.  

 

And if we are left with our current space, I am confident that we will still be able to make a station and trail that serve Bethesda residents and the region successfully. The Maryland Transit Administration believes that the smaller station can still effectively accommodate the system, and I will work to limit any negative impacts, like tail tracks, on the surrounding Bethesda Row area.

 

I will also lend my strong support for a high-quality bicycle connection through downtown Bethesda. Part of the great benefits of the Purple Line, in addition to the important east-west transit connection it will provide, is the creation of a complete and robust Capital Crescent Trail. And we are going to redouble our efforts to create a "gold" level on-street connection that will provide a safe space for riders of all ages. 

Confirming Natali Fani-Gonzalez to Planning Board Seat

On October 7, the County Council unanimously approved Natali Fani-Gonzalez to fill the vacant position on the Montgomery County Planning Board, after former Board member Casey Anderson was appointed Board Chair.

 

Ms. Fani-Gonzalez, a Kensington resident, was one of 25 applicants for the position. The Council interviewed four of those applicants. She will serve a four-year term. Ms. Fani-Gonzalez is the founder and principal of The Matea Group, a strategic public relations firm based in Montgomery County.

 

I believe she will bring a great energy and perspective to our Planning Board and look forward to working with her on critical land use issues that we will be addressing in the months and years ahead.

 

Green Banks & A More Sustainable Montgomery County

 

A few weeks ago, I invited the CEO of the Coalition for Green Capital (and District 1 resident) Reed Hundt to share his thoughts with my Council colleagues and staff regarding the benefits a "green bank" could bring to Montgomery County.  Such a bank would help our county to finance important environmentally-friendly initiatives affordably by attracting private investment in the green projects.

 

Green banks have emerged in several states, including Connecticut, New York, California, and New Jersey. They are typically used to finance two types of projects that are very important to Montgomery County's future. The first, Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), is a revolving loan fund where commercial property owners take out loans to make energy efficiency improvements to their buildings, and then pay back the loan over time with the money they save from the improvements. I sponsored successful legislation requiring the County Executive to establish a PACE program in Montgomery County, and we expect follow-up legislation from the Executive branch shortly to enact the program.

 

The second area where green banks have been tremendously useful is in financing the adoption of new green technologies. Our county has previously provided tax credits to encourage residents to install solar panels. That has resulted in long waiting lists and, at the end of the day, only around 1 percent adoption of solar by residents. A green bank would allow for more competitive financing that could make solar more attractive for residential and commercial properties, thus expanding its use throughout the county. That has certainly been the case in the jurisdictions that have adopted such banks. 

 

I am thinking hard about the role a green bank could play in Montgomery County. If you have ideas for how a green bank could help us finance our important sustainability initiatives here in Montgomery County, please let our office  know.

 

Promoting Pedestrian Safety Around Our Schools

 

I was pleased to join County Executive Isiah Leggett, Council President Craig Rice, Councilwoman Cherri Branson and Vice President of the Montgomery County Board of Education Patricia O'Neill as we announced the launch of the YOLO (You Only Live Once) campaign, a new education program to reduce pedestrian crashes involving teens. 


Developed by the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT), the YOLO campaign includes a toolkit that will be distributed to every County high school to reduce students' risks by reminding them not to walk while distracted. The event was held at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown where, in October 2012, 15-year-old Christina Morris-Ward was tragically struck and killed as she distractedly crossed the street on her way to school.

 

According to  Safe Kids Worldwide, about half of students ages 15 to 19 say they use a cell phone when walking to school. Each year more than 400 crashes involving pedestrians occur on Montgomery County roadways. Teens ages 15 through 19 make up half of all underage pedestrian fatalities. In Montgomery County, when pedestrians in this age group are found at fault in collisions, they are most often teens. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, one in five high school teens cross the street while distracted by electronics.


The YOLO campaign expands on a program begun during the past school year called "Walk Your Way" that encouraged teens to apply for $2,000 grants to create, design, and implement their own pedestrian safety campaign at their school. Four schools and one non-profit group comprised of high school students completed projects using the grants.

 

One of the four schools last year that completed a project was Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. Students there distributed bracelets during lunch periods with the safety message "Jaywalk or nah? Nah and Don't use a crosswalk? Smh (Shaking my head)." Students also made announcements about pedestrian safety.

 

In addition, the non-profit group that completed a campaign was The Leaders Institute, a youth-serving nonprofit organization comprised of students attending Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School. During the lunch period, students performed a pedestrian safety skit they wrote demonstrating how making one bad decision to text and walk can ultimately result in getting hit and injured or killed by a car. During the skit they also discussed pedestrian safety statistics, asked questions of the audience and gave out prizes. Students received training by County staff to conduct a crosswalk simulation activity for elementary school students at Healthy Kids Day and the Takoma Park Safe Routes to School 5k Race.

 

It is important to support these kind of education programs.  Smart phones can sometimes make people of all ages do dumb things. As policymakers, we must do everything we can to get the word out that we all must do our part -- pedestrians and drivers alike -- to not be distracted when we move and commute.

 

More information about the YOLO and Walk Your Way campaigns are available online at  http://montgomeryschoolsmd.org/safety/ and montgomerycountymd.gov/walk.

 

Crafting a Responsible Drone Policy

 

On September 11, during an emergency preparedness briefing with the Public Safety Committee, Chief Innovation Officer Dan Hoffman and Fire and Rescue Service Chief Steve Lohr made mention of a pilot program being developed for the County's four new quad-copter style unmanned aerial systems (UAS) -- also known as drones.

 

Drone use -- both public and private -- has slowly become more and more prevalent in our communities. They can be purchased online on common shopping sites like Amazon.com, and are usually used as simple toys. Though generally purchased for entertainment purposes, these drones can be of vital importance to our public safety officials.

 

During the briefing, Chief Lohr expressed that he believes these drones can be immensely helpful during a fire rescue operation; for example -- seeing behind a fire wall that could otherwise not be penetrated, or providing a video feed from an on-board camera in a location where deploying an officer would be dangerous and unsafe.

 

I agreed with Chief Lohr, and decided to introduce a  resolution to direct our Council's efforts with regards to drones. That resolution calls upon our County Executive to authorize our Police and Fire Chiefs to use drones in life saving situations while our Council investigates the kinds of privacy protections that are necessary in the longer term.  That resolution was unanimously passed by the Council this week.  

 

Our County has always fostered innovation and growth. It is vital to the continued growth and prosperity of our County that we not only embrace technology, but to use it to enhance our efforts. Through this resolution, we will further our shared goal of protecting and serving our County's citizens.

 

Nonprofit of the Month:  MCAEL

 

For our second installment of " Nonprofit of the Month," I wanted to showcase MCAEL, which stands for the Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy. Based out of Rockville, MCAEL works with the 2010 census data which showed that in Montgomery County 155,484 residents are identified as Limited English Proficient (LEP), which is about 15% of the county's population. MCAEL's diverse network of approximately 60 adult English literacy programs (in the community, faith, and government sectors) serves approximately 20,000 adult English learners.

 

Incorporated in 2006, MCAEL serves as a unique convener for a network of literacy programs for adults.  MCAEL now serves as the grant funding intermediary for Montgomery County government in order to increase the number of seats available to learners in classes, while also supporting programs to use standards Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) to measure and improve the classes they provide.

 

Now, MCAEL is entering its 8th year as an incorporated nonprofit and its 7th year as the grant funding intermediary for Montgomery County Government for all adult literacy programs. The organization is experiencing enhanced growth and visibility in the county, and in FY14 embarked on its second comprehensive strategic planning process. In FY15, MCAEL will be administering and overseeing grants to 22 programs at 18 organizations, an increase of 6 programs and 5 organizations from FY14.

 

Despite MCAEL's tremendous growth, MCAEL programs show a wait list of thousands of learners -- a sign of the growing need countywide. Moreover, this number does not reflect the learners who seek instruction from programs which do not keep wait lists, nor learners who may not be aware of programs. The 750 program and instructor staff continue to build their capacity to provide quality instruction and ensure that learners move through a system of literacy instruction that helps learners improve their English and achieve their individual goals.

 

MCAEL by The Numbers -- This Past Year

 

·         In FY14, MCAEL received applications from 14 organizations for 17 programs totaling $845,000 in requests.   MCAEL awarded $660,000 in County grants. The funding supported 13 organizations and 16 programs -- 4 were pilot micro grants for smaller/emerging programs (expanding activities).

 

·         Through workshops and meetings, MCAEL served/connected  190 unique individuals  (staff and instructors) within  51 organizations.

 

·         MCAEL leveraged connections to course instructors including national and local teaching staff and experts from Montgomery College, University of Maryland, Literacy Council of Montgomery County, Montgomery College, Anne Arundel Community College, and AIR in order to conduct relevant, timely, and quality professional development.   Workshops scored an overall 95% rating for "I will use material from this training in the Adult ESOL classes I teach." Instructor rating: 92% (Outstanding/Very Good).

 

MCAEL works with private and public organizations to leverage resources and engage the community in helping ensure that every adult who wants to can learn English to achieve their goals. 

 

Let us know if you know a nonprofit we should highlight in next month's installment of " Nonprofit of the Month." 

 

 




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